I thought I was nearly as memorable as Kate Forbes, whom I congratulate for providing the time for the debate.
Serve Scotland aims to empower the poor, the vulnerable and the marginalised. It unites local churches and community organisations. It facilitates communication among those organisations. It documents what has been done so that churches and organisations generally can learn from those experiences.
The beauty of Serve Scotland is that it is a nationwide organisation but it facilitates local actions. For example, in my constituency of Banffshire and Buchan Coast, the River Church has been a presence in Banff since 2001. It houses a thriving food bank, which is stocked both by donations from local people and through a partnership with Tesco supermarket in Banff. It also has a Well Café that offers a weekly hot meal and company for those in need. Services like that, in Banff as elsewhere, require the local power of volunteers—people who sacrifice time and bring their talents to make the efforts possible.
Another example—as in Inverness, as referred to by David Stewart—is the Peterhead street pastors, an organisation that began in 2003. I was privileged to attend the induction of some new street pastors recently. It is a living, expanding, terrific organisation. They walk the streets of Peterhead during the wee small hours of the night. I have been out with the police several times on a Saturday night in the environment in which the street pastors work, and I know the challenges that they are inevitably meeting. Without any side and without any bias, they care for, listen to and help those who may be out and about and in difficulty of any kind.
True to the goal of Serve Scotland, these groups are a light that shines
“in the darkest places of society”.
These particular groups help to secure the basic needs of food and safety for people who are on the margins. Other groups provide shelter, education or addiction recovery support, to name a few services. Among them, again in Peterhead, is the Salvation Army that I visited recently at the weekly lunch that it provides for precisely such disadvantaged people. I must say that the soup and pudding were first class. The group works with others to get the raw materials that it prepares for those who need them.
Groups do much more than simply address people’s basic needs. By reaching out in love, they anchor themselves and the people whom they serve to their communities. They create ties that strengthen the civil fabric of our towns and of Scotland as a whole.
Serve Scotland assists local organisations by exchanging information. It links groups together to share experiences. It helps churches and voluntary bodies to get the word out about projects so that they get the help and support they need. We are in uncertain times, and it is heartening to see that effort: to see engagement and education, not elitism; to see generosity and altruism, not greed; to see service and tolerance in place of self-interest.
In our contributions, we all gratefully acknowledge the local volunteers and organisations for their time and efforts to reach out in their communities. We commend the wider coalition of Serve Scotland for its bold vision of a tolerant, contemporary and co-operative Scotland.